Cricket Debate: Knowing Your Sport Does NOT Make You A Good Manager

What is it with sports and the belief that you have to have played the game in order to manage within the game?

I get totally that to coach, or take on any hands on sports specific role you need experience from within the game: the disaster of Woodward at Manchester United proves this – good at the commercial side of things (his background and experience), terrible at the playing side of things.

The last couple of months have highlighted that whist the ECB (England Cricket Board) seem to have a good handle on their commercial plans (with the exception of The Hundred), and their playing strategies seem sound enough, their ability to manage the players and the day to day approach towards this strategy are sadly lacking.

Many years ago as a young, first time, senior manager, a colleague commented to me that “you don’t have to win every battle to win the war”. Excellent advice that has stuck with me over the years, and seems more than appropriate to the current situation that the ECB find themselves in.

Most management courses, and successful managers, will tell you that decisiveness, good decision making and clear communication sit side by side in a good managers kit bag.

The issues surround COVID-19 and the way the bubbles have worked has been exceptional, and the recognition of the need to take mental health into consideration is to be applauded, but the implementation and communication has left a lot to be desired and highlighted that the ECB lacks good management experience to contribute a ‘non sports’ perspective.

Throughout my career (which focussed on helping businesses navigate through change, securing funding, mergers, acquisitions, management buy-outs, starts ups etc), I constantly walked into a new board room to be told “but we are unique”. Well yes, and no! There is a uniqueness to many a business without question, but within the word business there are many constant factors: customers, staff shareholders, partners, competitors, markets, legislation, governing bodies so I have always held the belief that a generalist with wide cross industry experience is a valuable addition to this “uniqueness”.

The ECB need to accept you can not win every game/series whilst building a new team and focussing on a long term strategy, you can not expect customers to continually pay “top dollar” in the expectation (based on your marketing) of seeing the ‘best’ players, and you can not treat mental health with a vanilla, one strategy fits all approach.

I doubt players all have the same dietary plan (although it will be based on a similar, consistent foundation) and their coaching plans will combine the team approach with their individual abilities. So with mental health having an overall objective or rotation and time away from the bubble is great, but individual players will have individual preferences and circumstances. The messages we received were at best confusing: initially it came over that the ECB had decided who would be rested and when, then we had Ali Gate where we were told it was his decision and finally we were told it was a joint discussion. Sure as eggs are eggs it can’t have been all three!!!

Similarly with the approach to each series what is wrong with designating some as “development” series and being up front about it? Lower prices, better managed expectations, a stronger squad or players with game time. The arguments often that it is disrespectful to the ‘other’ team which is rubbish. If you have a clear and sensible approach that you communicate up front there is no disrespect.

In sport, and in life, not everything can be the best, the top priority, the most important. We have to balance priorities, incorporate compromises, consider others requirements. The ECB needs to find away of doing this and a starting point would be to get the county members and successful business people involved.

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